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What is tyre labelling?

Well the official line is as follows:

‘The goal of tyre labelling is to improve the safety, the economic and environmental efficiency of road transport by promoting fuel-efficient and safe tyres with low noise levels.’

What we think:

‘An ill thought out EU directive that puts a pretty label on a tyre similar to those you see on a fridge.’

What does it all mean

Wet Grip

The official line:

This relates to the tyres ability to stop quickly on wet roads and is expressed in terms of stopping distance. The difference between A and F is more than 18 metres stopping distance.

What we think:

It only demonstrates straight line braking performance and does not cover safety critical parameters such as; grip on dry roads, cornering grip on wet roads or aquaplaning performance. I’m afraid that we have further issues too; since the tyre manufacturers announced their label values there have been a bunch of independent tyre tests that paint a very different picture.

The most prominent example was highlighted in the Auto Express summer tyre test 2012. Michelin had just released the new Energy Saver + and in the tyre size 205/55R16 it carries a label with wet grip rating of A. However Auto Express quoted the following, “it was the worst performer across our wet test track tests. It finished seventh (out of 8) in our wet braking assessment, as it took three metres longer than the best to bring the car to a halt, while it also struggled in aquaplaning (straight 8th, curved 7th) and wet handling (8th). You could clearly feel the limited grip from behind the wheel, with poor traction and lack of balance.”

Oh dear! What can we take from this? Is the label test not accurate? Is the Auto Express testing procedure not to be trusted? I’m afraid that I can’t answer these questions but it certainly casts some doubts over those label values!

Fuel Efficiency

The official line:

Fuel efficiency is important to reduce both CO2 emissions and the cost of driving. The difference between each category means a reduction/increase in fuel consumption of between 0.41 and 0.56 mpg.

What we think:

With the spiralling cost of fuel there is no doubt that this category is worth noting. However before you analyse the tyre options available to you and their corresponding efficiency label value I’d consider the following. 0.41 mpg – is that all? Doesn’t sound that much to me, probably because it isn’t! Some of the figures being thrown around the industry claim that the difference between the best and the worst performers equates to a tank of fuel over the life of the tyre. If a set of A rated tyres cost an extra £100 + more then it doesn’t sound like a great investment.

More concerning is the link between fuel efficiency and wet grip. Fuel efficiency is derived from the tyres rolling resistance, adjusting the rolling resistance can be done by modifying various characteristics of the tyre. However some of these can also have a negative impact on wet grip, if rolling resistance is lowered too far then the trade-off could adversely affect wet grip performance.

Interestingly in the same tyre test as noted above the Michelin Energy Saver + came out as having the best fuel efficiency, around 4% better than most of its rivals. But it was the worst wet weather performer, so would you rather save a few pennies on fuel or have a car that handles and brakes safely in wet conditions?

Noise

The official line:

This is the external noise made by the tyre and is measured in decibels, the more black bars the louder the tyres.

What we think:

Let’s just reinforce a point, this is EXTERNAL noise! It all goes back to the EU aim of reducing traffic noise. I’m sorry for all those people that live on a busy, main road but I really don’t care about how noisy my tyres are externally, what I’m concerned with is how much noise there is inside the cabin. Let’s also be clear that low external noise does not mean low internal noise, in fact I’ve heard from tyre manufacturers that the opposite can be true. Such a notion can be highlighted again in the Auto Express test; the Dunlop SP Sport Response has a label value of 1 bar and only 68dB of noise. Looking at the results this product came out 8th (out of 8) in terms of cabin noise, so if you like a nice quiet ride then you can’t really look to this rating for clarification.

Hmmmm, so far it’s not looking great for the tyre label, are there any other issues?

Oh yes! The label gives us (questionable) information on 3 tyre characteristics but there are many other important performance factors to consider such as:

  • Resistance to aquaplaning
  • Driving stability
  • Handling and steering precision on wet and dry roads
  • Durability
  • Braking performance on dry roads

Winter capability

Tyremen are heavily involved in winter tyres and we have serious issues with tyre labelling for these products. Motorists that enjoy the benefits of cold weather tyres look for performance criteria such as braking distances in snow/slush/ice, snow traction, snow handling and aquaplaning. You will notice that none of these criteria are referenced in the new tyre labelling system. When selling winter tyres we still need to display the label data but all this does is lead to confusion and really drivers should disregard these values for such products. Winter tyres often have more aggressive tread patterns which could lead to a small increase in rolling resistance and noise, but if you need your vehicle to get you about safely in harsh conditions then this is the trade-off.

You may notice that cold weather tyres don’t generally display great wet braking label results, does this mean that they do not work well in wet conditions? Not at all, winter tyres work great in the wet the values are just relative to summer tyre conditions as all tests have be carried out at 25 degrees celsius and winter tyres are designed to work in colder temperatures. 

If you would like read more about winter tyres and tyre labelling then please see our blog post here.

The A A myth

For the labelling system to be trusted then a tyre that is rated A A should be the best right? You may now be starting to build up an image that this is not the case and rightly so. As we saw above an A A tyre whilst being economical and offering short braking distances may still have poor all-round wet weather performance. To build up a better understanding let’s look at how tyre manufacturers talk about their products, generally as dealers we are presented with spider diagrams to display the performance of a particular tyre.

The manufacturers are unable to make a product that does everything perfectly, in the example above they show a standard tyre that does everything reasonably well. They will have then done a bunch of research and development to make a sports tyre with superb dry traction. The touring tyre then has a different focus of comfort, quiet (internal) noise and increased tread wear. This is all achievable but to the detriment of handling and traction.

Now maybe you can see that if a tyre is excellent in 2 areas (such as wet braking and fuel efficiency) then something has to suffer. Essentially an A A tyre is going to be a poor all round performer.

Original equipment tyres

Finally, a bit more further proof that an A A tyre does not necessarily make for a great tyre!

Let’s look at the car manufacturers, they demand an awful lot from tyre manufacturers and demand the best product to make their vehicles drive and handle as effectively as possible. Some premium car brands even make a bunch of specific demands from the manufacturers in order to approve a tyre for use on the particular car. Pirelli demonstrate this perfectly, in size 225/55R16 Pirelli make the P7 Cinturato with a * mark which means it is approved by BMW for use on one of their models. This tyre has the following label data:

Fuel efficiency – E
Wet grip – B
Noise – 2 bars, 71dB

Now in this size Pirelli have also started making the P7 Cinturato blue, their new ‘label’ tyre which has the following labels values:

Fuel efficiency – A
Wet grip – A
Noise – 2 bars, 72dB

On the label this product looks great, therefore you would expect BMW to be rushing to get this product on their car instead of the standard P7 Cinturato. Well of course they haven’t BMW need a tyre that works great in a range of disciplines and something that excels in a couple areas is not going to offer the all-round performance that makes the best of their vehicles.

So what should I look for in a tyre?

So unfortunately the tyre label data doesn’t really help you in choosing a great tyre so what info should I look at? Well there various ways in which you can get information on tyre performance:

Forums – some tyres work particularly well on certain motors

Tyre tests – results can vary wildly from test to test but when you start to see trends of particularly good results then it’s fair to assume it’s a good product

Ask us – we’ve been selling tyres for 40+ years and know a thing or 2 about tyres, give us a call and we’ll happily give you a recommendation.

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